RELEASED: January 2010
AVAILABLE ON: PC, PS3, X360
PUBLISHER(S): Electronic Arts
I love Mass Effect, but there's no way around the plain fact that the game is not perfect. When I wrote a review of the game, I purposedly overlooked a few flaws that really bothered me about it and still, I ended up with a whole bunch of peeves. However, I was very fair to the game as far as numerical ratings went, because it was the whole experience that really left the final, great impression on me. After finishing Mass Effect, I wasted no time in going into Mass Effect 2. I haven't read one even slightly reserved review of this game; everywhere I look, Mass Effect 2 has been described as the gold standard of modern video gaming. The only thing it has been criticized for is that it's less of an RPG and more of a traditional action game spiced up with mild role-playing elements - but still, an extremely impressive one. Like the first game, Mass Effect 2 was supposed to be exclusive to the Xbox 360, but it ended up being released on the PC, and due to Sony's very strange contract with BioWare and EA signed in 2009, it was also released on the PlayStation 3 an exact year after its initial release. Although the PS3 version has been called technically the best possible version Mass Effect 2, I'll go with Microsoft on this one: only on the Xbox will you be able to experience Mass Effect to its fullest... and what an experience Mass Effect 2 is. A true RPG or not, Mass Effect 2 is one of the best games I've gotten familiar with in the last few years.
Better. Stronger. Faster.
Mark Meer : Commander Shepard (Male)
Jennifer Hale : Commander Shepard (Female)
Yvonne Strahovski : Miranda Lawson
Adam Lazarre-White : Jacob Taylor
Martin Sheen : The Illusive Man
Tricia Helfer : EDI
Seth Green : Jeff "Joker" Moreau
Brandon Keener : Garrus Vakarian
Steve Blum : Grunt
Courtenay Taylor : Jack / Kalara Tomi
A month after Commander Shepard and his squad prevented the Reaper Sovereign from destroying all organic life in the galaxy, he's still scouting planets for any remaining geth activity. A sudden attack on the SSV Normandy prompts the crew to abandon ship. While rescuing the last survivors of the initial attack, Shepard gets thrown into outer space seconds before Normandy utterly falls apart. He is declared dead. In reality, he spends the next two years on an operating table in a facility owned by the company specialized in biological research he used to fight against, Cerberus. After regaining consciousness, Shepard heads into a confrontation with the mysterious chairman of the company, after which he reluctantly decides to join Cerberus in their fight against a new interstellar threat - the Collectors. To stand a chance against these enigmatic aliens, Shepard needs to recruit specialists from both sides of the law and assemble a new squad, twice as efficient as the one he led to victory in the battle for Citadel.
After the shocking intro to the game was over, I was like "hell no, you are not going to make my Shepard the Six Million Dollar Man!", but unlike Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2 starts up real quick and in just a few tens of minutes, you'll forget all thoughts about clichés, and be so into the great cast of characters and intriguing storyline, that you'll be going over all of its information in your sleep and on the toilet over and over again. Mass Effect had a great story, but part two... damn! It's been a while since I've enjoyed a story this much, counting out Red Dead Redemption, of course, which is a pretty much unbeatable game, a monument if you will, when it comes to storytelling in a video game throughout history. The most important reason why I personally think that the PS3 port of Mass Effect 2 was totally unnecessary, is that in the Xbox and PC versions you can import your own Shepard from the first game. There are many expansion packs and sequels that are boasted to "be influenced by your decisions in game X"; in Mass Effect 2, that influence is very concrete. If you do decide to import Shepard, be prepared to experience some amazingly detailed results of your actions in the past - it's like there never was a gap between the two games! Also, your class (which doesn't hold that much meaning in this game) and Codexes are carried over from the completed Mass Effect file on your HDD. I can't even begin to describe the kicks I got from starting up Mass Effect 2 right on the heels of the first game and seeing the Shepard I've grown very fond of, picking up right where he left off, dying in under ten minutes into the game, and then being reconstructed piece by piece by a shady corporation that needs his help so bad that they invest most of their finances in just bringing him back to life - just the way he was before getting minced in the attack. Yeah, it might sound like it's got Six Million Dollar Man or Knight Rider written all over it, but it goes deeper. Way deeper.
|The Citadel has changed some since your last |
The cast of characters in Mass Effect 2 is by far the most interesting RPG crew since the days Final Fantasy build-ups had some significance. In the first game, your squad had six additional members at the most; in Mass Effect 2, you can hire up to ten squad members - 12, if you're holding the DLC. In the first game, you didn't even have to talk to all members of the squad to fully complete the game. You could just hire them and let them do their jobs on the battlefield - why should you get friendly with bombfood, huh? Well, antisociality simply isn't the way to go in Mass Effect 2. To fully complete the game, you need to get familiar with each and every member of your squad. Every single one of them has a sidequest of their own, which doesn't only serve to prolong the game itself, but the resolution of their personal problems grants you their loyalty, and to them, additional skills and an alternate outfit. (Loyal members might even be easier to get into bed. Just saying...) The sidequests in general are nothing like those in Mass Effect, in which you just took the Mako, explored a planet until you found a building, entered the building, killed aliens and got the hell out of orbit - the case was closed. Very often you won't see the difference between a sidequest and a plot quest in Mass Effect 2; it all belongs here. Also, even if Mass Effect 2 is more of a straightforward action game than a "real RPG", the content of the sidequests is always surprising, diverse, and adventurous on BioWare's part; they took risks with Mass Effect 2, risks that paid off. Bomb rigging/defusal, murder mysteries, Shepard as a makeshift lawyer, Shepard stalking an assassination target from the rafters with intents to save him from a hit... hell yeah, Mass Effect 2 has plenty of ammunition. There are no identical quests in this game. The best bit of news? Mako isn't even in the game. More about how the sidequests and general exploring go down without a vehicle, later.
Going through all the identities, even the species of Shepard's squad on this mission would be a spoiling trip like no other. Suffice to say, you're going to meet a whole lot of old friends, some of which might have changed sides during Shepard's absence, and whose perception of Shepard in the now is pretty much up to how you've treated them in the past, all the way to the beginning of the saga. Starting to get the factor of awesomeness when it comes to the old save file, yet? As a matter of fact, some loading screens already remind you that each decision you make in Mass Effect 2 will have an impact on the events of Mass Effect 3 - I've never seen a game promote its yet unconfirmed sequel quite like this. You're going to meet a lot of new folk, too, and I must say that I absolutely love over a half of the squad. The divide between the species is pretty much the same - in the retail game, there are four humans (whereas there were three in Mass Effect), one quarian, one krogan and one turian. There's also an asari who you can actually replace with another one depending on whether you want to go at it as a Paragon or a Renegade, and even a salarian. Throughout the game, there are also representatives of species that were just briefly mentioned in dialogue in the previous game, or not heard of at all. One of them's a member of your squad - the assassin Thane, who is a drell; a "frog-man" with a photographic memory. Thane is one of the most fascinating new characters in a thoroughly fascinating cast, and he's among the best speakers in the game, when it comes to both conversation and random field dialogue. Since I already mentioned Jack before, it probably won't hurt to describe her. Jack sticks out like a sore thumb from the crowd. Being a biotic specialist myself, I don't use her that much in combat, but I enjoy talking to her. She's a former test subject of Cerberus (which makes her a bit difficult to work with), a drug addict and a convict with incredible biotic powers and tattoos that cover about 90% of her well-over-a-half-naked body. Jack is not a very polite person and those tattoos are a bit too extreme for a female, but something about her fascinates my Shepard (maybe even his little Shepard), and of course it turns out that she's not nearly as bad as she makes herself out to be up 'til her personal quest. Last, everyone knows Miranda Lawson - the gorgeous woman fighting at Shepard and Thane's side in the game's cover art, and who's been featured in most promotional material for Mass Effect 2. She's brilliant; definitely one of the most charismatic female characters I've ever had the pleasure of conversing with in a video game... and as many casual players would say, romancing Miri is one of the primary goals of Mass Effect 2, assuming your Shepard's male. That's pretty much true, in fact, since you cannot do it before nearing the end of the game. So, if you're up for some really, really softcore video game sex with the sexiest character of the bunch, you'll have to fight for your reward.
|Why do the nightclubs with alien strippers |
always fascinate me so?
The voiceover work was amazing in Mass Effect, but in Mass Effect 2, the slightest technical errors have been scrubbed out - the cast does a near-perfect job. Who we've got here is another reason to be awestruck. All the actors and actresses (whose characters survived in your personal game of Mass Effect) reprise their roles. Yvonne Strahovski didn't just do the voice of Miranda, she also lent her likeness to the character - it's a crime people that beautiful exist. Michael Hogan and Tricia Helfer (of neo-Battlestar Galactica fame), and Carrie-Anne Moss (of Matrix fame) are in as the mandatory science fiction veterans, filling in for Marina Sirtis and Lance Henriksen from the previous game. As the cherry on the top of the cake, we have Martin Sheen - that's Martin Sheen - as Shepard's new boss, the Illusive Man, who resembles a younger Sheen quite a bit. There are more video game voiceover staples here than one can count; there are 95 actors et al, and about 70% of them are some of the most sought names in the business. Basically: name them, they just might be here. This is seriously the first game I've played in months that doesn't have Quinton Flynn, though. Thank the Maker.
David Kates replaces Richard Jacques in Jack Wall's team of composers, but otherwise, you are safe to expect a soundtrack just as magnificent, even better than that of Mass Effect. The cues are right on the mark and you're in for some epic action/sci-fi scores heard in way too few games nowadays. No standout licensed tracks this time around, only as a background tune I can't quite remember.
|That Commander Shepard, where will (s)he go |
next? Wherever the f'k (s)he wants.
The first thing you do in this game is determine whether or not you want to (or can) import your main character from Mass Effect. You cannot modify the character at this stage and very soon, it is made clear why: you die. However, death and even the total obliteration of the most important human organs cannot keep a Shepard down, especially not since his/her floating bloody mass "just happens" to be intercepted by Cerberus, who have the best medical technology money canNOT buy. You'll be yourself in no time, however the total destruction of Shepard's facial features among everything else of course calls for a total makeover in practice, if you are in need of one. If not, you can easily keep your old face, with a few nasty burn marks/scars decorating your cheeks. You cannot change an imported Shepard's class, however you are in no need of special skills such as electronics or first aid - you can use everything that is truly important to your progress the whole time, and my Vanguard has apparently learned to hack and bypass even the most advanced electronic panels himself. Vanguards and other biotic specialists do get the shortest straw, though - almost every potential squad member is a biotic. There are very few no-frills combatants in this game, naturally even fewer if your Shepard's not one.
The mission computer (main menu) is exactly the same as last time around, minus the equipment menu (whew). However, you don't have to constantly keep track of when you can level up. Each time you take on a mission of any kind, the game politely prompts you to level up by bringing up the squad screen. Leveling up is not as essential as the case-specific build-up of your squad. Leveling up is only used to make your skills stronger and your chances of survival about 5-10% better, and easier - in other words, you can take on any unlocked mission and conquer it, wear any type of unlocked armor and wield any type of unlocked weapon from the beginning. Having a balanced squad helps, but in the end, surviving a mission is pretty much up to your personal combat skills as a player, and knowledge of what to do with each weapon and biotic skill. You don't really "equip" armour and weapons in Mass Effect 2, you just unlock them, and upgrade them throughout the game. You can choose between a few armours for Shepard as you make progress, though - all of which have different perks, and a totally different look.
|Robot, I told you not to mess with the mininuke.|
Let's start with how the combat works, and as tradition goes, I have good and bad things to say about it. For the most part, the combat is amazingly dynamic and in-your-face, and once you master all there is to it, there's no better smell for you than the smell of flesh burnt by an incendiary bullet. However, mastering combat is nearly impossible because of some deadly errors. Taking cover is much, much harder than you would think. This time, your party members quickly get out of your way if you want to swipe their cover, and that's OK, that's an improvement. The cover also indeed covers you from everything else but the Harbinger's powerful missiles which knock you back. However, sometimes Shepard just twitches in place when you try to shoot from the cover, and the only way to fix it is to move a little and then move back to the original spot if need be. Also, he tends to uncover from time to time, all by himself, and also move by himself. Vaulting over your low covers works on half the certainty all the time. The cover system's filled with strange, occasional glitches - but luckily they're occasional.
What's not occasional is your squad's unstable A.I.. How shall I put this? In narrow hallways, your squad's absolutely dominant. They can take care of themselves quite proficiently, and even better care of enemies. They aim their weapons and biotics primarily at the optimal targets for their attacks - for example, Overload breaks shields, so they automatically use Overload on the shielded enemies first. When you get to big, open areas with a lot of potential places to take cover in, you very often find yourself in trouble. First and foremost, for some odd reason, your squad members tend to get as far away from you as they can and focus on enemies that are not a direct threat to anyone. You can give orders during battle, but they work just as good as in Mass Effect - not too good! You might hear your squad member acknowledging your order, but chances are you won't see them doing anything about it if the area is big enough. To put it simply, even if you're in huge, direct trouble - like if you have a whole army of those annoying Husks surrounding you and you have no chance of escaping them, hitting them or even shooting them (I know you're thinking "use a shotgun", and I would if they weren't so useless even in short range combat), don't expect help if there are much further enemies involved in the fight.
|Can you fly, Bobby?|
After recruiting a scientist via the main plot - you absolutely do not have to recruit all the members into the squad if you don't want to, but he's pretty much mandatory - you can indeed upgrade everything. That's everything, from your ship to weapons to armour. Most of the reasons why you need to upgrade the ship are revealed very near the end of the game, but there are also some upgrades to the ship that affect parts of the gameplay. You can find weapon and armour upgrades everywhere, and these upgrades need to be researched and activated in the ship's tech lab to mold them into perks for Shepard, certain squad members who have specific weapons and skills, and occasionally the whole squad. Casual players and non-RPG fans will most likely love this system, since it removes every bit of worry about equipping your squad just right. Every perk you gain is permanent. Hell, you very rarely need to switch your weapons yourself, because the game always switches to the most powerful option automatically. However, in some rare cases, power does not stand for effectiveness in combat; as dastardly awesome as a mininuke is, it's extremely slow, takes up shitloads of heavy ammo, and won't guarantee you smooth sailing in tense combat situations quite like a basic missile launcher. Even if the game takes good care of character development for you, be on your toes.
Mentioning character development once again reminds me of leveling up, and like I said, leveling up is not that essential. Let's see... first, we have Shepard. He has the most skills out of all the characters, naturally since he's the only one you control and he needs to be somewhat balanced. Depending on his class, he has a specific special skill. I'm a Vanguard, so he has Assault Mastery. Upon reaching the highest level of the special skill, you can choose a specialization, identical to the ones in the first game. Every skill has four levels, and each of those four levels requires a corresponding amount of squad points, which the EXP turn into. Upon finishing a teammate's sidequest, Shepard gains his/her loyalty, as well as the skill which is unlocked via loyalty. You can choose only one of these skills at a time. Changing it any time with another acquired teammate skill is perfectly possible via an upgrade, and if you do change it, the squad points you have appointed to your previous skill up 'til that moment are automatically transferred to the new one. Also, after getting yet another of these much-spoken upgrades, you can nullify all of Shepard's skills at any time, to reorganize the whole bulk of them. One more time: I do agree that the game was not made for RPG fans, but a wide, casual audience. However, Mass Effect 2 is such a fantastic game that even RPG fans can't turn away from it. Don't even try.
|Interfere with asari business, leave with a |
Let's talk about exploring. Not in general - but exploring your ship, which you'll be doing a lot more than you would think at first glance. Your ship has four decks, and you travel between them by elevator. Do not worry, this time loading screens replace those slow and awkward elevator sequences that bored you out of your brain in the last game. Deck 1 is Captain's Cabin. This cabin's your hiding place from the rest of the world, a place to relax in, listen to some music, go over your armour setup, feed your fish, cuddle your hamster... wait, what? Yeah, in some choice settlements, there are souvenir shops, from which you can buy pets, as well as miniatures of starships from the Mass Effect universe. The miniatures and the hamster are pretty much just for show, but you need to feed the fish every time you come aboard if you want to keep them alive. Seriously, I think I whimpered when the first batch died... and then went back to buy replacements for them. I forgot to feed them too, luckily there's a person in the ship's crew that offers help in feeding the fish while Shepard's on a mission. Cool. No more dead fish in my tank. Also, you can go over upgrades, the squad's status, and even the system-specific achievements you've gained thus far on your personal terminal.
Deck 3 (Crew's Quarters) and Deck 4 (Engineering) will be filled with your squad members by the end of the game. Most of the time you spend on your ship, you spend on Deck 2, in the CIC - Combat Information Center. There you're informed of all your new messages and new developments within the squad, in other words just by speaking to one person periodically, you find out if there are any sidequests or unique conversations with your teammates available. You have close to no need to be constantly checking up on them. You can contact the Illusive Man from here, and both the tech lab and armory are on this deck. Also, the good ol' galaxy map's on this deck, which brings us to what I believe a lot of players are curious of: we need materials and minerals, how do we get them without having to take the Mako and curse our way over the mountains to find yet another sample of mercury that has no practical use at all? And what use do these materials have in Mass Effect 2? Well, let's get that out of the way first. Materials mean everything when it comes to upgrading your ship and equipment. They work as credits in the development process. Almost every planet in this game has massive quantities of minerals required for your upgrades. You can find them from the field, but mostly, you collect them by simply using the planets as dartboards for probes. You have a scanner that goes completely haywire when you strike a vein of an element, for example element zero: just shoot a probe, and you nail shitloads of eezo. You can continue all the way until the scanner says "Depleted". It's that easy. No more driving around like a moron, and searching for these minerals is clearly separated from actual, constantly unique assignments.
|Thane is kind of spooky when he goes into that |
"memory zone" of his, but he's really a nice guy.
Finally, as far as gameplay goes, the hacking "minigame" has gone under one huge surgical blade. There are actually two different types of hacking puzzles, and no, neither one of them is simply about matching up button patterns like a zombie (or rather, like a Husk?). These ones actually require some brains, and a good pair of eyes. The first one is a labyrinth of code. The game gives you a code pattern, and you need to navigate this automatically scrolling list for an exact match. Hit an empty node or pick the wrong bit enough times, or fail to solve the puzzle within the time limit, and the system locks down. Usually, there are no second chances. The second one's a matching game, in which you need to bypass circuits by connecting two nodes with an identical icon. You can see every icon by moving the cursor over them, but once you pick a node, every other icon vanishes and you need to remember where the matching one was. Pick the wrong one just once, or once again fail to meet the time limit - tough luck. Way more interesting than just pressing the right buttons like an assembly line worker, in my opinion.
I reserved this space for two more additional "yays", and two more additional "boos". Yay: the game has an autosave feature that you can definitely rely on. The game still counts your saves, which is disheartening (I had something like 187 saves in the first game), but the only times you really need to save the game are the times you quit playing. Of course, if you want the storyline to take a specific direction, you'll probably want to save more often. Another yay: you can continue the game right after the ending, even though it clearly paves the way for the final part of the trilogy. This allows you to build up your characters even more, go on assignments that you missed and play the DLC without having to start the game over. Boo: well, I pretty much went over the worst parts already, the flaws of combat and the fueling system. They are by far the only things that bother me about Mass Effect 2. But, since I have to come up with something, I'll just blurt out that changing discs during any game is an obsolete errand in my books, and you have to do it multiple times during this game. When looking for something a bit more concrete, I guess I should also mention that at some occasions, I got Renegade points for no apparent reason at all, while trying my absolute best to maintain Shepard's perfect Paragon status.
|Last but not least, the most famous screenshot |
of the game.
Mass Effect 2 rules, and upon beating the game, I unfortunately have to part ways with it for now, but I'm planning to buy the game for the PlayStation 3 some day after it becomes cheap enough, and I'm definitely hyped about Mass Effect 3 - which, of course, I pretty much have to play on the 360 to allow my dear Shepard's legacy to continue. I knew I was heading into a good game when I slapped in Mass Effect - but I had no clue of what kind of a masterpiece I would be blessed with by its sequel. It still has some splinters, but there's no doubt about the greatness of the whole experience. Again, double that if you're playing as an imported character. I just can't describe the kicks.
GRAPHICS : 9.6
SOUND : 9.6
PLAYABILITY : 9.3
LIFESPAN : 9.4
CONCLUSION : 9.4
GameRankings: 94.48% (PC), 93.17% (PS3), 95.66% (X360)